New School Nutrition Bill: Better Lunch, Less for Dinner

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country,we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, Aine Duggan, Vice President for research policy and education at Food Bank NYC, talked about the child nutrition bill likely to be debated by Congress this week. 

Championed by Michelle Obama, who has made fighting childhood obesity a central tenet of her work, the school lunch reauthorization bill would add money to make school lunches healthier: more fruits and vegetables, less processed food, and better quality. It is precisely what health advocates and anti-hunger organizations have sought for years.

But the changes are financed by taking money away from food stamps. 41 million Americans - 80 percent of whom have children- now rely on the grocery vouchers to suppliment their monthly needs. The number of families that need help buying food has skyrocketed since the recession began, with food stamp enrollment up 50 percent since 2007. The average monthly benefit is about $130 per person.

Improving school lunch is very important, said Aine Duggan, but she said it shouldn't be financed by taking money from another essential nutrition program.  

We certainly want to see the school lunch program improved across the country. We want to see increased reimbursement rates, we want to see nutrition standards inproved and we're all advocating for a very solid strong child nutrition bill. We just don't want to see it paid for my taking food off tables in people's houses. I mean it's ironic that we would want to improve nutrition for children and then take away parents' ability to buy them nutritious food.

The food Stamp monthly benefit increased in 2009 as part of the stimulus plan. Duggan argued that if the country can afford the TARP bank bailout and a myriad of other government spending, it can figure out a way to sufficiently finance both school food and nutrition assistance to families.

Listen to the entire discussion on The Brian Lehrer Show.